Is this ANY way to run an Economy?Posted: April 4, 2009 Filed under: Equity Markets, Global Financial Crisis | Tags: bailout, DeLong, Depression, Financial Crisis, Krugman, Obama/Geithner Bailout Plan, recession, Stiglitz, Summers Hedge Fund Salary, unemployment 4 Comments
The US economy is in a fragile state right now which begs the question: Why do our policy makers seem oblivious to lessons from the great meltdowns of the past? Adam Posner of the Daily Beast asks the question out right: Does Obama Have a Plan B? Posner asserts that the administration appears to be hellbent on recreating the Japanese Lost Decade. This is something that I’ve been harping on for months as has Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz–two big brained economists with Nobel prizes.
So it is with some irony if not humility that we should approach Treasury Secretary Geithner’s Public Private Investment Plan presented on March 23. A number of major American banks have lost huge amounts of money, and clearly have insufficient capital if they are not literally insolvent. Why else would they be pushing so hard to change the accounting rules to avoid showing what they really have on their books instead of raising private capital? Why else is the U.S. government taking so long to perform “stress tests” and trying to get expectations of overpayment for some of the bad assets on the banks’ books before the test results are out? In short, the U.S. government is looking to shovel capital into the banks without sufficient conditions, hiding rather than confronting the actual situation.
That is just like the Japanese government in their lost decade, or the U.S. officials during the 1980s before they really tackled the savings-and-loan crisis. In those cases, the delay simply made the problem worse over time and in the end the government had to put more money into the troubled banks directly, taking over or shutting down the weakest of them. Whatever the political culture, it would seem we have not learned from experience. Or perhaps we cannot act on our learning. The universal barrier would appear to be the political difficulty of recapitalizing banks. That seems obvious, but the constraint it puts on good policy is enormous.
That is why the Geithner plan is so complex and jury-rigged, to avoid the need for public requests for more money for banks. Unfortunately, it is unlikely to succeed absent additional public money and more-intrusive government action. The plan will buy some time and certainly some appreciation in bank share prices. Current shareholders will be getting a new lease on life with subsidies from taxpayers. For that reason alone, the plan certainly will cost the taxpayer more in the end than a more direct recapitalization with public control would have.